Clarity provided but questions raised in Gazette article on Becket Keys

Not for the first time, key information pertaining to the proposed Becket keys Church of England School has broken in the Brentwood Gazette before it has appeared on their own website or as a mailing to interested parties. Several themes that Educating Brentwood has been tracking are tackled and, on the face of it, important clarification is provided. However, many questions also arise from this article.

Let us first pull out the key parts of the report:

  • All 176 applicants for places for September 2012 entry will be offered a place.
  • “Every place above 150 will be funded by the school’s sponsor, the Russell Education Trust”(RET).
  • The required public consultation is reported as “set to begin yesterday” (6th March)
  • “Decision Day”, the date by which parents must decide which school place to accept for their child, is March 19th.

So what was initially envisaged as a 120 pupil entry school will now accept over 40% more pupils should all accept their offers. The expectation of those behind the school is that it is unlikely to exceed 160 but this still appears to be a change in direction given the following statement on the Becket Keys FAQ page:

“The small school ethos is a key element to the new school. Our vision is to have a school small enough for all the students to be able to gather into the hall on a daily basis.”

Reporter Piers Meyler correctly points out that “the impact on secondary schools in Brentwood is as yet unknown” but Educating Brentwood have already received comments from some concerned that the impact could potentially be great. As state funds are allocated by head of pupil, a larger intake will potentially mean a higher decline in resources elsewhere. Becket Keys acknowledge this in their FAQs:

“There is also concern about the size of the new school that it may lead to a reduction in pupil numbers in other local schools. We believe this is over stated, because: if it had not been closing, probably at least 100, if not more, pupils would still be enrolling in Year 7 at Sawyers Hall College every year.”

This figure seems odd given the following statement in the February 18th 2009 edition of the Brentwood Gazette:

“A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “When a school has as low an intake as Sawyers Hall College has seen over the last two years – 44 Year 7 pupils out of a possible 260 places in 2007 and 35 in 2008 – and with that trend likely to continue in September, the county council has a responsibility to discuss the situation with the governing body and to consider all the options – of which closure is only one”

Nonetheless, even if we accept the claimed figures, 176 is clearly significantly above that. It may, therefore, have been interesting to canvass the opinions of parents with children in existing schools to gauge their views alongside those quoted in today’s paper.

It could be that the RET are mindful of this hence their offer to fund a number of places themselves. It is not clear from the RET website, or their parent company Education London, where these funds will come from, but this is another question that should be cleared up once the consultation has been held. But when will that be?

The Gazette reports that it should already have started. There is no such statement on the website and no correspondence has been seen by Educating Brentwood to confirm this. We have written to Becket Keys this morning for clarification because, as we have stated before, a properly held public consultation needs to be promoted to maximise participation in it.

It is also disappointing that Karen Lynch, of the RET, describes the process as “just a hoop to jump through”. Becket Keys proposers ought to be engaging the residents of Brentwood in a vital exercise to understand where their tax is going not down playing its relevance. Stephen Capper, Headteacher at Sawyers Hall College, appears to recognise this and calls for “a debate similar to the Gazette’s Big Debate between councillors”.

As someone who is engaged in the University Technical College bid, Mr Capper’s suggestion would be a good opportunity to enable those interested to hear more about changing educational provision in the town but it should not take the place of the consultation. At least one public meeting to understand the proposed Becket Keys funding agreement should form part of the consultation.

The Gazette has provided important clarification on one key point which we have subsequently checked. They report that “prospective parents have until March 19th to decide where they will be going”. We are grateful to Essex CC who provided the following confirmation this morning:

“ECC issued letters to parents offered places at both an LA school and Becket Keys on Monday of this week asking them to confirm which of their offers they would like to accept by March 19th. Becket Keys also issued letters to parents asking them to confirm whether they would like to accept their Becket Keys offer by March 19th.”

This means that parents of Year 6 parents will not have had full access to information on the funding agreement before committing to a school for their child for September 2012. They also do not know how the remainder of the SHC site will be used. It also risks undermining the consultation as Becket Keys will have committed numbers for September intake before Brentwood residents have had a chance to scrutinise their funding, admissions and governance proposals.

As previously reported, our understanding was that this date was to be fixed between Becket Keys and Essex CC and we called upon both parties to delay until the consultation was held and feedback from the DfE was received. Essex CC has assured us that other schools were canvassed and has confirmed the following today:

The date was discussed and agreed with all other Brentwood schools.”

We are of course unclear as to whether those schools where aware of the potential effect on them now that Becket Keys have increased their numbers again. They, the parents of children currently in those schools and the wider Brentwood public now deserve to properly engage in a meaningful consultation to make sure that the full ramifications of that decision is fully understood.

Brentwood deserves to be properly consulted.

Stephen Mayo

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